Life on Earth is tough and fraught with violence. Pollution has destroyed the quality of the air people breathe and there’s an ever-present threat of radiation. For those on the ground, the only options are to live their life working in the mines or to become a rider, risking their lives as they take to their bykes and compete, racing to win a one way ticket to the mysterious Sky Base.
When fifteen year old Adam enters the Blackwater Trail, he knows that the majority of the riders won’t return. The landscape is unforgiving, the obstacle courses are booby-trapped and people will do absolutely anything to win, including taking out their fellow competitors. Soon enough, he’s teamed up with the dark, enigmatic outsider Kane and Sadie Blood, daughter of one of the most powerful families in town. Together, the three of them take on the course and battle every impediment hurled in their way, hoping to escape their lives for something better.
Adam as a main character is really interesting. He’s lost everything and everyone around him and he has nothing to lose. Despite this, he’s determined to hang on to his humanity. He refuses to join one of the ruthless motorcycle gangs and he can’t resist taking one of the more vulnerable kids in the race under his wing, despite knowing it will probably hinder his chances. He also baulks at the idea of resorting to violence to take out his competitors. As the race goes on, this resolve is tested to extremes, and it seems impossible that he will come out the other side as the same person who went in.
The setting was amazing and I could perfectly visualise the dusty, gritty, desolate desert scene. The author was inspired by old Western’s, and there’s a definite feel of the Wild West running through the book – lawless and unpredictable and the perfect breeding ground for long-simmering feuds and epic showdowns. I loved the opening scene. You can practically see the dust rising from the wheels, feel the heat of the sun and hear the byke engines revving. All it needed was some iconic theme music.
That said, I would have loved to have a bit more world building. I really wanted to know what had happened to the world, what was happening elsewhere on the planet and what exactly the deal is with Sky Base. As a reader, you’ve got to ask yourself what kind of place Sky Base really is, if the people who gain entry there are some of the most ruthless and dangerous that Earth has to offer. There’s going to be a sequel though, so hopefully we’ll get to explore the world that David Hofmeyr has created in a bit more detail.
From the second that the race kicks off, it’s pretty much non-stop action to the finish line. The three main characters face opposition from all sides, and there’s rarely a moment where they, or us as readers, can take a break and breathe. It’s a dystopian, action packed, futuristic western, and while there are some aspects of the story and characters that could have done with a bit more development, it was a compelling and gripping read.